Last week’s blue wave rolled over already-blue Connecticut, subjugating its citizens under the absolute one-party rule of Democrats who retained the governorship and grew their majorities to super-majorities in both houses of the legislature.
It wasn’t just reaction to Donald Trump. Connecticut’s mainstream media whitewashed the abysmal record of unpopular outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy, who, along with his fellow Democrats and allied union bosses, wielded full control over two terms with only slimmer margins.
Just as Tom Sawyer cleverly delegated the whitewashing of Aunt Polly’s fence to his friends, Connecticut Democrats would seem to have lured their media friends into doing their bidding in order to reduce the drag of Malloy’s unpopularity on their candidates.
One pre-election newspaper headline read “Malloy myth is dead wrong; he slashed state spending,” and another excoriated Republicans for wrongly accusing Malloy of instituting “the top two tax hikes in CT history,” as if this would absolve him of the several huge increases he imposed.
This media revisionism falls apart in math class: “slashed” spending would lead to budget improvements. Logically, reduced spending combined with tax hikes would lead to even greater budget improvements, yet the state is facing big budget deficits as far as the eye can see.
The projected deficit in each of the next two fiscal years is $1.75 billion, or 9 percent of the $20 billion annual budget, despite a recent surge of revenue generated by the Trump economy and the Trump tax bill and the advancing stock market. Either Democrats will have to raise taxes or drain the $2.1 billion “rainy day fund,” which has only just been replenished, also by these Trump effects. What if these effects disappear or reverse, as is already happening in the stock market?
What’s the actual fence look like underneath all the whitewash?
Malloy is the Hank Aaron of tax hikes, the career champion, but not the single-season record holder.
In inflation adjusted terms, Malloy’s two biggest income tax hikes total $2.9 billion, dwarfing second-ranking Lowell Weicker’s career total of $2.0 billion, which Weicker achieved with one titanic out-of-the park blast of $2.0 billion in the 1991 season.
The sleight of hand in the claim that Malloy “slashed spending” was not so slight. The newspaper deemed two-thirds of the state’s budget to be non-discretionary and therefore beyond the governor’s reach. The remaining one-third of spending has been flat under Malloy — or, “slashed,” once inflation-adjusted.
The reporting excluded “The Big Five,” beginning with the state’s biggest spending program, Medicaid. Whoops. That, my dear Watson, is elementally discretionary. Under ObamaCare, every state governor could expand Medicaid or not. Malloy did. Whether you support expansion or not, you can’t say it was mandatory. State spending on Medicaid grew from $2.0 billion to $3.1 billion under Malloy.
Debt service (bond payments) grew from $1.7 billion to $2.2 billion, despite the record-low interest rate environment, as Malloy increased debt outstanding by $6 billion.
Many of Malloy’s capital projects were suspect; some, ludicrous. One colossal boondoggle was the $600 million, nine-mile busway between Hartford and New Britain, neither of which is an economic growth center worthy or needful of whisking people to and fro on a dedicated transportation link.
Another big item was state aid to municipalities, yet such aid is not spending, but rather the negotiated split of spending between towns and the state. It would hardly be genuine budget-cutting to offload more costs to local government, as Malloy sought unsuccessfully to do by cutting the annual $3 billion in state aid.
The final two of the “Big Five” are health care benefits for state workers and retirees, and pensions for state employees and teachers statewide (the state took over teacher pensions long ago).
Over-generous pensions and health care benefits are gobbling up the state budget at a rapid clip. On Malloy’s watch, these two compensation categories almost doubled from $2.0 billion in 2010 to $3.9 billion in 2017. Continued steep increases are projected.
When Malloy took office in 2011, he inherited a 20-year omnibus pension and health care benefits agreement with state labor unions covering almost all employees. Not Malloy’s fault, since it came about under a predecessor.
The so-called SEBAC agreement had six years to run, seemingly handcuffing the governor. But, what did Malloy do? He agreed to extend the agreement for five more years. Listen to what Dan Livingston, the union coalition’s chief negotiator, said: “Now we have an 11-year agreement. I wish it were still 20. But 11 years is still unheard of in the country.”
What did Malloy and the Democrats do in 2017? They extended the SEBAC agreement another five years until 2027.
The truth is the exact opposite of what was reported. It was Malloy’s failure to control “Big Five” spending, which surged 40 percent from $8.7 billion to $12.2 billion, that left him no choice but to “slash” spending on “regular state government.”
Margaret Thatcher said famously, “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” Connecticut illustrates a corollary. Before reaching the eventuality that Thatcher describes, you run out of money other than to pay the legions of unionized government bureaucrats employed to administer the programs that you no longer can afford.
At best, the whitewashing of Malloy’s record misinforms the public. At worst, it reveals that those informing the public are misinformed themselves, or, even worse, that they are partisans.
Red Jahncke is president of Townsend Group International, a business consultancy headquartered in Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @RedJahncke.
Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.